The replacements are even being noticed in Las Vegas, where bookies are beginning to think about giving the home team an extra half point on the betting line because they believe the replacements are more easily influenced by fans to throw penalty flags against the visiting team. They’re also setting higher point totals, partly because more pass interference penalties are being called by the replacements.
That’s what makes this week’s slate of games so crucial to both sides. The NFL already has a five-week schedule of games for the replacements, and could be drawing up plans for even more if things go smoothly. As in most labor disputes, the longer the replacements are out there, the worse things will get at the bargaining table for the real officials.
Ultimately, as Young pointed out, the NFL will do what it wants. Fans may not like the replacement referees, but they’re not staying away from stadiums or turning off the TV because of them.
Unless something dramatic happens to change that equation, it’s hard to bet against the most successful sports league in the land.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg